Headlines: April 24th, 2001

The NHS genetics services are to be reorganised into a single, national network to make sure all patients get the same standard of specialist genetic services, regardless of where they live. There will be two new national laboratories specializing in rare genetic disorders and diseases and they will identify new tests and treatments that can bring benefits to patients. There will also be four genetics knowledge parks, supported by the 10 million pounds Genetics Knowledge Challenge Fund, bringing together scientific and medical expertise. Universities, NHS Trusts and private sector firms are expected to develop joint proposals for the parks, which could be based either in existing centres or in new ones.To ensure that the benefits of scientific breakthroughs in genetics are properly passed on to patients more specialists will be employed in this field. By 2006 the number of specialist consultants in genetics will double from 77 to 140, the number of scientific and technicians working in genetics will rise by 300 and there will be at least an additional 150 specialist genetic counselors. Currently there are 20 NHS hospitals in England specialising in genetic medicine.

The Human Genetics Commission, created in 1999 to provide the Government with strategic advice on the big picture of human genetics, will discuss a draft report on the wider social and ethical issues involved in the use of genetic data in insurance and make recommendations in June 2001. The Health Minister has already made it clear that the Government will put in place a moratorium on the use of genetic tests by insurance firms, using legislation if necessary, should the Human Genetics Commission so recommend.

It was recently announced that legislation will be brought forward to comprehensively ban all forms of human reproductive cloning.